The Things Between Europeans and Asians

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, August 05, 2004 was originally posted on August 10, 2004.

DAY 292:  The continents Europe and Asia are separated naturally by the Ural Mountain Range, which extends from the northwest of Kazakhstan to the Kara Sea in the Arctic Circle.  The mountain range is fairly wide as most mountain ranges are, and without any legal boundary between two different nations (it’s mostly all in Russia), it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Europe ends and Asia begins.  As far as I’m concerned, the mountains are the wide border between the two continents, just as Central America is a big border between North and South America.

I had signed up for a mountain expedition day tour through the Urals to see the things between Europeans and Asians.  The day started as I was picked up at the Guide Center office — where Sasha had escorted me to that morning with my bags to be left there — by Russians Pavel and Tom (who was also from Sasha’s hometown of Asbestos).  In the car with me were Matt, Jeanette and Pavel’s Siberian Huskie Jean (pronounced the French way). 

“Don’t worry, I may look old, but I’m fit,” Jeanette said, an elderly woman old (only in terms of years) enough to have white hair.

We rode westbound down a modern mountain highway, stopping briefly at the Memorial for Repressed People under Stalin’s Atheist mandate.  Those who had been persecuted, simply for having religion were remembered with names on rows and rows of plaques. 

We continued down the highway, passed a construction area on both sides of divider.  “They’re building a dividing line between Europe and Asia,” guide Tom said.  “But the real border is farther down.”  We drove about twenty minutes more off the main highway and onto a small road, to the site of an obelisk with a green line coming from it.  Pavel drove right over the line and stopped the car. 

“Welcome to Europe!” he said.  The obelisk and the line were yet another group’s definition of the boundary between Europe and Asia, declared sixty odd years before. 

“I’m going to have to ask you to take my photo,” I said to British traveler Matt.

“What, one food on one side and one on the other?”

The standard tourist pose.”

He shot me and some pictures of his own before we hopped back in the car.  Pavel drove another ninety minutes to the entrance of our destination, Wild-Deer Streams Nature Park, yet another thing between Europeans and Asians (although according to both borders we had seen so far, we were on the European side).  Pavel let Jean out of the back hatch so that he could run alongside the car for the one kilometer to the parking lot.  Tom told me that Pavel and his many dogs were pretty famous, appearing in the Guinness Book of World Records for the mountain expedition at the highest elevation for dogs.


THE SIX OF US (DOG INCLUDED) GEARED UP for our rafting, hiking and caving experience at the car.  Pavel handed me to carry the two end pieces of a portable paddle, which looked like two big metal fly swatters.  “Anti mosquito!” Pavel joked. 

We hiked through the long grass to the Siberian taiga-forest, where luckily for us, tick season had just ended three weeks before.  Tom pointed out the different kinds of trees to us, the beehives in one of them too.  “You see the moss on this tree?  That means the air is very clean.”

While Pavel and Tom got the rafts ready, Matt, Jeanette and I hiked around the river valley area (picture above).  “The guy at the tour agency said that an American bloke who’s an experienced rafter would be joining us,” Matt said.

“Experienced?  I don’t know about that,” I said with modesty.

“I was afraid it was going to be twenty young fit guys and me,” Jeannette said.

We eventually got into our two little inflatable dinghies floating in the small but pleasant Serga River, Matt and Jeannette in one, and me alone in the other — the guides would take a hike on a shortcut to meet us downstream at the take out point.  I think the adjective “experienced” fit me like a size 7 1/2 shoe because I got the hang of paddling solo pretty fast.  Having practiced the paddle technique on my final day in the Amazon rainforest did me good after all. 

The Serga took us downstream, about six kilometers over an hour, passed serene green scenery, through a rock tunnel formation and down sections of rapids (nothing too major). 

“Zdrastvuytye! (“Hello!”) I called out to a happy camper near his tent at the bank of the river.

“Hello there!” he replied in English, waving.

The river run only lasted so long when I spotted Tom and Pavel on shore setting up a lunch campfire.  I stepped onto shore with matt and Jeannette not far behind.  Pavel had stripped down to his briefs and invited us to join him for a dip in the cold Serga water.

“I’ll go,” I volunteered.  “I’m already wearing my swimming trunks [underneath].”  Pavel said something Russian.

“He says don’t mind the nuclear waste factory down the river,” Matt joked.  Keeping the moss on the trees in mind, I stripped down to my trunks and followed Pavel’s lead.  Jean the Siberian Huskie jumped in too and doggy paddles to the other side.

“Whoa, that’s cold,” I said, yelping — but I got over it and did the plunge.  I was only in the river for about a minute before I went to the campfire to thaw out.

“All that just to say I went swimming in Siberia,” I told Matt.  Needless to say, if there was another thing to add to the list of things between Europeans and Asians, it was my pair of shriveled, shrunken genitals.


TOM LED US ON A HIKE through the forest of the Middle Urals, a generally flat region with not many hills since the mountains are very old, geologically speaking, and have lost most of its peaks already.  The six-kilometer hike took us to the Friendship Cave, an underground tunnel where, as soon as you set foot into it, the temperature dropped to 39°F (4°C).  Jeannette skipped out on it while us boys went inside to climb over slippery wet rocks and see the vapors of our breath illuminated by flashlights and headlamps.

After seeing another big cave, we head back to camp for the lunch Pavel prepared for us.  A drizzle started to fall from the sky, signaling the end of our day trip.  We hiked back to the car, over rickety suspension bridges and up some small hills.  We were all pretty much exhausted on the way back to Yekaterinburg and took naps on the two-hour drive back (minus driver Pavel of course).  On the way there, I was awake to see the “Welcome to Asia!” sign on the different highway we were on, with yet another definition of the imaginary line between the two continents.  I thought the sign was funny saying “Welcome to Asia!” as casual as the “Welcome to Maryland!” does on US I-95.


BACK AT THE GUIDE CENTER OFFICE, I picked up my bags and another American traveler there, a spaced-out young Californian named Blake who had just gotten into town.  We had a quick round of outdoor beers before he walked me to the bus that took me to the train station for my overnight train to Novosibirsk.  I shared a compartment with three Russian mafia-looking guys with gold teeth — one big as Tony Soprano — who didn’t bother me other than when they annoyed the hell out of me, playing every musical ring tone on their cell phones to each other.

And so, the train head eastbound through the night into the “official” region of Asian Russia east of the Ural Mountains, a.k.a. Siberia.  I made sure I didn’t leave town without having tipped my guides Tom and Pavel — I really like tipping to deserving guides, especially when they don’t ask for it.  If there was something else to add to that list of things between Europeans and Asians, it was Pavel’s and Tom’s smiling faces.

(By the way, for the record, you can go ahead and cross out “my pair of shriveled, shrunken genitals;” they had returned to normal.)






Next entry: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Previous entry: Grudka




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Comments for “The Things Between Europeans and Asians”

  • First

    I couldn’t resist, seeing as I actually managed to post first.

    Hey Erik, Keep up the great writing, I can’t wait to get on the road again myself and your stories and (mis) adventures are keeping me pysch for my own trip.

    Rob

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:31 AM


  • Whoa - glad you made it through those rapids in one piece - looked DANGEROUS! Fascinating that Stalin would make a monument to oppressed peoples… rather ironic.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  08:14 AM


  • I think you may have misunderstood.  I’m pretty sure it was a monument to people Stalin oppressed.

    Looks like a fun day out though.  My kind of a day trip.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  09:41 AM


  • NEIL:  Thanks for clearing that up… that’s what I meant…

    NOELLE:  Really the rapids were really tame…  In the Class structure of rapids (I to V), I don’t think they even rated…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  01:18 PM


  • Erik - I was kidding. I could tell that they were on the tame side of tame. smile

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  04:59 PM


  • Russia looks like Canada LOL

    Posted by Liz  on  08/10  at  06:06 PM


  • so what really goes on in the “Friendship Cave”...

    huh?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  07:00 PM


  • Liz:  Those white birch trees remind you of Northern Ontario? It’s probably very close in latitutde.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/10  at  10:21 PM


  • Okay, so we’ve demonstrated that sarcasm doesn’t translate too well on the Blog. I understood you perfectly NOELLE. TeeHee.

    I’m impressed with the number of monuments, memorials, and general sculpture all around you in eastern Europe. Very unexpected.

    Also unexpected,  the landscape. I too expected desolation and unbareable snow or something aweful. Those woods and river could really be anywhere. Guess we all have a pretty poor idea of what Russia is really like. ERIK—you could be their new Tourism Spokesperson!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  12:10 AM


  • What’s up with everyone just thinking about Siberia with SNOW?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/11  at  12:30 AM


  • CHRISTY:  Yeah, I’d do a Russian Tourism ad in front of a camera… and just say “Umm… ” and smile.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/13  at  05:33 AM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Previous entry:
Grudka




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